The Pixies are one of those bands with more of an
influence of other musicians and pop culture than
on the sales charts. Over the course of a few short years
from the late-80s and early 90s they
created a righteous noise immortalized on five albums and
then they were gone. Having such a compact
legacy has helped cement their legend with fans: There's
hardly a bad song in their catalog, which
includes at least two of the finest rock albums ever
By now more compilations and live albums have probably
been released of Pixies music than the band
put out the first time around. To that pile add
Pixies, a DVD collection of live material,
videos and documentaries. Actually, the live portion is
the real reason to pick up this set. (I'll
discuss the rest of the disc in the extras section
below.) Consisting of a complete concert from
1988 in London, the show perfectly displays what was so
special about the band. Their appearance was
strictly no frills: Vocalist Black Francis (A.K.A.
Charles Thompson, and later Frank Black) looks
pudgy and sloppy in a sweaty T-shirt and jeans. Guitarist
Joey Santiago is skinny and awkward.
Bassist Kim Deal wears an oversized college shirt.
Drummer David Lovering is equally unassuming.
They approach the front of the stage looking like they
accidentally wandered in off the
Then they tear into their opening number, "The Holiday
Song," of their 1987 debut Come On
Pilgrim, and all hell breaks loose. Francis' vocals
are beyond intense, with a rawness and
energy that no other rock singer possesses. He's closer
to Screamin' Jay Hawkins than any of his
peers, but with a reckless abandon that's disarming in
the setting. And the sound perfectly complements the
twisted lyrics. Francis' songs use bizarre language and
images to create really vivid stories. Lines like "You're
so pretty when you're unfaithful to me" from "Bone
Machine" and "Losing my penis to a whore with disease,"
from "I've Been Tired" don't come from the standard
songwriting textbook but the impassioned delivery ensures
that they have real impact. There is a crazy blend of
biblical, sexual and just plain surreal content,
especially in these early songs, that adds to the overall
feeling that the band is creating something new, both
sonically and lyrically.
And the musicians match
his ferocity step for step. Deal and Lovering lock into a
simple, driving groove that changes
tempo or keys at magically perfect moments, with Francis'
rhythm guitar jangling along for the ride.
All this is topped off with the innovative Santiago whose
lead guitar can cut like a buzzsaw, then
trail off into a lovely melody and finally collapse into
straight white noise. There is no rock star
pretense. Considering that bands like Poison and Winger
were at their peak while Pixies were touring
it's shocking how pure the musicianship really is. And
this is really one of those bands where it would be
unthinkable to remove or replace any one element. The sum
of the parts what it's all about.
The show on the DVD comes at a crossroads for the band.
Here they're touring with their 1988 masterpiece
Surfer Rosa, a dissonant collection of hollers and
screams punctuated with some of the finest
pop melodies around. The band was refining this sound for
their next album, the equally masterful
Doolittle (maybe the best introduction to the
Pixies sound), so only one Doolittle track
appears here (the incredible "Hey") but the sound of the
show is still widely varied. From the punishing noise of
"Something Against You" to the slow, seductive build of
"Caribou" (which has one of the weirdest choruses of all
time: "Caribooooou…Caridoooooooooouuuu…REPENT! REPENT!")
Deal's sweet lead vocals on "Gigantic" add a new element
to the band's sound, and the melodic verses of "Where is
My Mind?" (which fans of Fight Club will recognize
at the closing credit song) drive the band closer and
closer towards the perfect song.
This is really outstanding music. Watching it being
created is a treat and the force and passion of the
musicians just makes you smile. Even though the concert
only runs 40 minutes, it's really a memorable performance
that merits repeat viewing.
The Holiday Song
Ed Is Dead
Where Is My Mind?
Something Against You
I've Been Tired
Wild Honey Pie
The video footage isn't great. It looks like just what it
is: Nearly 20 year old video camera
footage. It's not particularly sharp and it features a
couple of video glitches. Still, it's acceptable and
you'll likely lose sight of the flaws once you get into
The audio is much better than the video. There are Dolby
Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks and both are
very nice. The 5.1 really sounds awesome. The music has
punch and a driving force that hits the
listener in the gut. An excellent audio track for getting
into the band. The 2.0 track is nearly as
effective, only really losing points in comparison to the
5.1. The individual instruments aren't quite as cleanly
separated out, but the track has a power and drive all
its own. This is really an excellent audio presentation.
There are three other sections on the disc aside from the
concert: A collection of music videos, a
documentary, and tour footage.
The music videos are the least interesting aspect of the
disc. The Pixies never seem to have warmed to making
music videos and were never rewarded with MTV exposure.
The clips are mostly terrible, with only a
clip of the band playing "Allison" in an empty sports
arena and the strange boxed-in "Head On" of
any visual interest. The worst video here, "Velouria,"
is still the only video I've ever seen an
MTV VJ bad-mouth on air. (I remember Dave Kendall
lamenting the clip and saying that he wished he
didn't have to play it.) The nice thing about this
section, however, is that it gives viewers a chance to
hear some of the songs off The Pixies' final two albums.
The music videos are: "Monkey Gone To Heaven," "Here
Comes Your Man," "Velouria," "Dig For Fire/Allison,"
"Alec Eiffel," "Head On," and "Debaser."
Of far more interest is Gouge, a documentary on
the band. I was expecting a short clip reel
but got a nearly-hour long piece filled with interviews
with the likes of David Bowie, Bono, PJ
Harvey and members of Radiohead and Blur, along with 3/4
of The Pixies (Deal is sadly absent.) This
is an excellent chance to get to meet the band and learn
about their history. There are also plenty
of clips from club shows (although most of the clips come
from the London show on the DVD, strangely
looking somewhat better here, sepia-toned and a bit
sharper.) It's nice to hear Bowie so
enthusiastic about the band. He really seems to know
their music inside and out, something that must seem
to the band.
The final feature on the disc is a collection of road
footage taken by touring crew member Myles Mangino. This
sequence is unpolished but features a lot of interesting,
unguarded moments from tours in Europe and
America. Kim Deal in particular is very funny as she buys
cheap tourist crap and takes time to list
who each piece is set aside for. There is also a very
funny segment where Deal berates Lovering over his taking
a phone number from an underage fan. It's really funny
to compare the snippets of mundane road life with this
clever bunch of folks with the raw, powerful music they
created as a band. There are also plenty of short clips
from shows over the course of the tour. Another
This isn't really a disc with a main feature and a
collection of extras. Most will buy it for the concert
but most of the other features are indispensable as well.
The Pixies may not be a household name, but I'm willing
to bet that in those households where they are known
they're more likely to be the favorite band than not.
With their current reunion tour, this DVD and yet another
greatest hits package, more music lovers have the
opportunity to discover this strange, beautiful, powerful
music. The influence that the band has had is tremendous:
Kurt Cobain said that he was trying to copy their sound
when he wrote "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and it's hard to
imagine bands like the White Stripes, Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand without the fury they brought
to their sound. The disc is inexpensive and filled with
wonderful sounds. If you love loud music it's definitely
worth a look.